QUETTA -- Security forces arrested at least 17 suspects Tuesday (February 18) after a suicide bombing a day earlier targeting a religious rally in Quetta killed at least eight people including two police personnel.
Security forces are conducting search operations in different areas of the city, officials said. Authorities have constituted a special team compromised of different law enforcement agencies to interrogate the suspects.
Security forces have collected the remains of the suicide bomber, which they will be sending to a forensic lab in Lahore.
The suicide bomber was trying to enter a religious rally near the Press Club on Quetta Adalat Road. When police personnel stopped to search him and ask for identification, he detonated the explosives, said Muhammad Javed, a Quetta-based senior police official.
"The attack wounded 24 other people, who have been shifted to Civil Hospital for immediate medical aid," he said. "So far, eight patients are in critical condition."
Law enforcement personnel have collected all the available evidence from the scene and have recorded statements from some eyewitnesses, Javed said.
"Security in the rest of the provincial capital has been put on high alert, and additional police and other law enforcement agencies' personnel have been deployed in all sensitive areas of the city," he said.
"The police personnel deployed at the entrance of Adalat Road prevented the suicide bomber [from entering] by sacrificing their lives," said Deputy Inspector General of Quetta Police Abdul Razzaq Cheema. "If the attacker had succeeded in hitting his target, the losses could have been much higher."
"Investigations are under way, and we are making every possible effort to foil the enemy's plans to disturb the peace," he said.
"Anti-peace elements are trying to spread sectarian violence here; therefore, they are plotting against the religious parties," Cheema said, adding that the religious rally was a soft target for militants.
"We have a close eye on the situation, and all law enforcement agencies are on high alert," he said.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal strongly condemned the attack and directed the Ministry of Home and Tribal Affairs to submit a detailed report.
"Terrorists playing with the lives of innocent citizens will never succeed in their evil intentions," he said in a statement released from Quetta.
"Maintaining lasting peace in the province is our top priority, and the government will never compromise its goal for peace," the statement added.
Balochistan political parties and trade unions on Tuesday (February 18) jointly announced a complete strike in Quetta to protest the bombing.
"Terrorists are trying to sabotage efforts for peace in Balochistan," said Allahdad Tareen, a leader of the Quetta-based Central Traders Union of Pakistan. "The provincial government must take more-concrete steps for the security of our lives and property."
"We have called the strike to record our protest against the untoward law-and-order situation in the province," he said.
No group immediately took responsibility, but "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in the past has claimed responsibility for many attacks in the region.